When working on financial plan illustrations for clients, I request quite a bit of information. If they are not yet claiming social security, I will include a Social Security Statement in that request list. Often times, I’m asked what that is and how they can retrieve it, so let’s cover that question today.
What is a Social Security Statement?
Each year, the Social Security Administration puts together a statement for each participant in the program. If you have work history, you should have an account as you and your employer will have contributed into the social security and medicare system via payroll taxes (also known as FICA taxes).
The statement provides a great amount of detail including your wage history, your total contributions, and an estimate of your retirement benefits at various ages.
How do I access it?
For many years, the statements were mailed out annually. Now the Social Security Administration encourages people to access them online (you will be mailed a statement starting at age 60 if you don’t have an online account yet – but don’t wait that long to look!)
Your statement is available online at ssa.gov. You will need to create a “my social security” online account. Once you’ve established an account, you will be able to access your Statement online from that portal. And each year thereafter, you will get an email reminding you to log in and review your latest statement – a great prompt to complete this task each year.
What information does it include?
On the front page, the statement shows a graph listing the various monthly benefits depending upon when you claim social security. You will easily see that the longer you wait, the higher your benefits will be. Each year, as you add to your wage history, your benefit will change so it’s important to review it annually – especially as you get closer to retirement/claiming age. While it likely won’t be enough to fully support you in retirement, the amounts can be meaningful and its important to carefully review all options before deciding when to claim.
There is also a chart of your entire earnings history. This summarizes your wages over your lifetime, according to the Social Security Administration. While these amounts are fed directly from your tax returns/W2s, it’s a best practice to confirm the amounts each year against your records. Keep in mind that there is an annual cap on the amount of earnings against which social security is applied ($147,000 in 2022) – so if you earn above that cap, note that the cap will be the amount listed – not your actual wages. Also keep in mind that the wages won’t populate until your taxes are filed. So, if you pull your January 2023 statement, it won’t yet show 2022 wage history.
The statement will also show the lifetime amount you (and your employer) have paid in for both social security and medicare. This can be an interesting number to look at (and a bit shocking too)!
What else should I be aware of?
Keep in mind that this statement is meant as a guide – not a definitive planning tool. The estimated benefits on this statement are based on many assumptions including that you will work until full retirement age and that your earnings in the most recent year will continue and increase for cost of living adjustments. If you make changes to your trajectory (such as retire early or switch to part time role), your benefits will be materially different.
The statement also doesn’t show the interconnection with Medicare (Medicare Part B premiums, which are indexed to your income, are directly deducted from social security if you are claiming it at the same time you are on Medicare)
Further, the estimated payment amounts are not inflated (rather, they are in today’s dollars) so it can be hard to project that out, especially if you are a long ways from retirement.
My suggestion – use this statement as a guide and an annual tool to check that the Social Security Administration has your correct information in their system. The closer you get to retirement, the more accurate the estimates should become. But even so, given the complex nature of Social Security and its importance in most peoples’ retirement pictures, I’d encourage you to work along side a financial advisor to ensure your successful navigation of this valuable program.
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